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What do you answer if someone (with a big bum) asks you “Does my bum look big in this?”

This question is a great one for exploring truth, honesty, and critical feedback. In this week’s blog I explore some different perspectives on truth, especially when delivering difficult feedback.

Most people have a value for honesty, and yet there are times when the plain truth can be very difficult, or even unnecessary. Your other values will come into play, such as kindness and directness.

For example: How would you answer the question “Does my bum look big in this?”

  • Yes” might be accurate, but not necessarily kind or helpful – they can’t change the size of their bum.
  • “No” might be true to you, especially if your bum is bigger than theirs. Or it might be untrue, but kinder.
  • “Of the two outfits, the blue one is more flattering on you” – might be a way of responding that is both kind and honest, but indirect.

There are already 3 truths – so now what it “true”?

Truth depends on where you’re standing
Surely it all depending on your point of view.  My sister-in-law prides in telling the truth, even when it is hard to swallow. She values humour – and hard truths are often very funny. British comedy is full of truth which is funny because it hurts. The great psychotherapist Frank Farrelly specialised in this provocative combination of truth and humour to get brilliant results with his patients.

At the other end of the spectrum, I like Mark Twain’s view “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story”.  At a recent training course I started to tell a story set in my client’s workplace – my intention was to illustrate the learning point that I was making. From where I was standing, the “truth” was quite simply unimportant. What mattered was to help my delegates to understand a key concept using a context that they were familiar with.

However, one of the delegates interrupted me with “But that’s not how it happened”. She proceeded to re-tell the story “truthfully” – based on her truth. Unfortunately, it no longer served my purpose, and my learning point got lost.

Honest feedback
One area where many of us have trouble expressing our truth is when we are giving critical feedback.

It’s odd, because most of us claim that we’d prefer people were straight and honest with us if they have something difficult to say to us. But when it’s the other way round, many people can have trouble saying what they mean.

Try this: Re-framing feedback
Here’s a great exercise which uses truth from many points of view to help you to prepare to give some critical feedback:

  • Step 1: Outline the situation, the behaviour you want to comment on, and what you’d like the person to do instead.
  • Step 2: Extreme Reframe: write it down in the most blunt, honest way you can. Say what’s really on your mind. If it includes hurtful truths, or even sweary words, that’s OK (for now!). You won’t be using this one, but it can really help to get it off your chest.
  • Step 3: Alternate re-frames: write down as many different ways of making the same point as you can think of – use some of the ideas below if you get stuck.
  • Step 4: Talk it all through with a partner and have them help you to identify any more useful re-frames, and to decide which one(s) to use when you actually tackle the situation.

Re-framing your feedback
Here are a few ideas to help you to re-frame your feedback:

  • try explaining the problem
  • try explaining the consequences of the problem
  • if your feedback is emotional, try being purely factual
  •  if you’ve been factual, try explaining your emotions
  •  if you’ve been vague, try being specific
  • if you’ve been specific, try being more vague
  •  it it’s worded formally, try being informal – and vice versa
  • if it’s mainly about “you”, try emphasising “I” – and vice versa
  • if you’ve described the solution, try explaining the problem
  •  if you’ve given one solution, try giving 2 or 3 alternatives
  • try outlining the steps they could take
  • if you’ve criticised the person’s identity – e.g. you are a bully, try changing it to a behaviour – e.g.when you consistently speak over Jane in the meeting it seems like bullying behaviour
  • if your feedback is telling them something, try re-framing it as a question or a request
  • state what it is that you’re most afraid of.

How many other ways can you think of to re frame your feedback?

Is truth also ignorance?
Sometimes, people can be convinced of a truth, merely because they are ignorant of an alternative.

For example many people assert that “NLP is not based on science”. Perhaps they are merely unaware of the work of Professor Patricia Riddell, professor of Applied Neuro-Science at Reading University, and others who are doing new research into brain function all the time, with findings that support and reinforce the things we already know in NLP.

And of course, it is sometimes said that “A bumble-bee can’t fly, according to physics”. But the bumble-bee doesn’t know that.

Now ain’t that the truth!

If you want to know more about re-framing and the NLP feedback model, join us for an NLP Practitioner programme.  Learn more at www.brightlightnlp.com

About Madeleine Allen: The author is a specialist in Leadership, Communication and Personal Development for business professionals. An NLP Trainer and Master Practitioner she conducts in-house corporate training (learn more at www.allentraining.co.uk) and public courses in NLP (learn more at www.brightlightnlp.com)